Florida

SURF­ING CUL­TURE IN DEL­RAY BEACH, FLORIDA BY TOM WARNKE

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Palm Beach County, Florida is home to thou­sands of stoked surfers and a rich surf­ing cul­ture. Much of that cul­ture is rooted in the ocean­front com­mu­nity of Del­ray Beach, dubbed “Vil­lage by The Sea” years ago. Not only is there real surf cul­ture here, but lo­cal surfers can also rightly brag about the wave qual­ity. Al­though surfers are ac­cused of al­ways search­ing for the per­fect wave, Del­ray Beach is one of many places they can ac­tu­ally be found.

By 1963 surf­ing was al­ready an es­tab­lished life­style in Del­ray Beach, sup­port­ing two of the first surf­board fac­to­ries in Florida. The Caribbean Surf­board Com­pany and Richie Surf­boards were man­u­fac­tur­ing hun­dreds of long­boards each year, down­town on Del­ray Beach’s iconic At­lantic Av­enue. On many week­ends there were more than 100 surfers crowd­ing the surf­ing area. Surf­boards rented for $2.00 per day and gaso­line sold for 20 cents a gal­lon.

THE BAHAMA IS­LANDS LIE JUST OFF­SHORE OF SOUTH FLORIDA AND BLOCK MOST WAVES FROM GET­TING TO THIS PART OF THE COAST, SO SMART LO­CAL SURFERS OF ALL AGES CHECK FORE­CASTS OF­TEN AND KEEP THEIR SCHED­ULES FLEX­I­BLE, ES­PE­CIALLY DUR­ING THE WIN­TER SURF SEA­SON. WHOLE FAM­I­LIES HEAD FOR THE OCEAN WHEN GOOD WAVES ARE EX­PECTED, AND WE OF­TEN KNOW A FEW DAYS IN AD­VANCE SO WE CAN PLAN OUR WORK AROUND OUR TIME IN THE OCEAN.

One of Del­ray’s first surf­board “shapers” was 16-year-old Ron Heavy­side, who hand-shaped cus­tom boards at Caribbean while at­tend­ing Seacrest High School. By 1968 he opened his own fac­tory and a re­tail shop on A1A, No­mad Surf­boards. He be­came one of the most in­no­va­tive and pro­lific shapers in the U. S., shap­ing more than 10,000 cus­tom boards. Now his two sons run the busi­ness and Ron is re­tired, but he still shapes an oc­ca­sional board at age 68.

These days Del­ray Beach in­cludes many “ocean afi­ciona­dos.” They are ac­tive mem­bers of groups such as the East­ern Surf­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, Surfrider Foun­da­tion and the Palm Beach County Surf­ing His­tory Project, with lo­cal surf­ing his­tory ex­hibits open to the pub­lic at the Sandoway Dis­cov­ery Cen­ter over­look­ing the ocean. Del­ray’s mayor, Cary Glick­stein, even founded an an­nual Surf Fes­ti­val each fall to ben­e­fit the city’s Ocean Res­cue Life­guards.

The Bahama Is­lands lie just off­shore of South Florida and block most waves from get­ting to this part of the coast, so smart lo­cal surfers of all ages check fore­casts of­ten and keep their sched­ules flex­i­ble, es­pe­cially dur­ing the win­ter surf sea­son. Whole fam­i­lies head for the ocean when good waves are ex­pected, and we of­ten know a few days in ad­vance so we can plan our work around our time in the ocean.

Del­ray Beach can brag about get­ting some of the high­est qual­ity waves on the East Coast, though the fre­quency of waves is less than other ar­eas. What makes the waves here so spe­cial? Three rea­sons. 1. The Del­ray Beach area has the clos­est beaches to the Gulf Stream Cur­rent, which is the largest mov­ing body of wa­ter in the world. Waves which travel here from win­ter storms are fo­cused on our sand bars by the cur­rent, pro­vid­ing ex­cel­lent surf­ing when neigh­bor­ing towns have much smaller waves. 2. We en­joy rare “Slot Swells” which sneak through a nar­row pas­sage in the Ba­hamas. This is rare, but our ten-mile stretch can light up with great surf a few times a year as a re­sult. As they say, you just have to know when to go. 3. There are a cou­ple half-mile-long dredge pits just off­shore which fo­cus wave peaks into Del­ray, caus­ing bet­ter con­di­tions than beaches for miles around. Oh, and our clear blue ocean here never goes be­low 70 de­grees, even on the cold­est win­ter days. Once again, thanks to the warm Gulf Stream Cur­rent flow­ing north­ward a few miles to the east of Del­ray.

De­cent surf can be found along Del­ray’s three-mile shore­line at least 100 days per year, usu­ally no more than three to six feet high. But on rare oc­ca­sions the ocean at Del­ray serves

up true, Hawai­ian-qual­ity waves. That’s what hap­pened on Su­per Bowl Mon­day, 2016. Two days ear­lier, “Win­ter Storm Mars” howled in the At­lantic Ocean off the New Jersey coast, cre­at­ing a large, long-pe­riod groundswell headed di­rectly for Palm Beach County. The swell ar­rived at dawn, over­head in size, break­ing with pre­ci­sion from north to south along Del­ray’s sand­bars. By af­ter­noon the waves had dou­bled in size and con­di­tions were per­fect for surf­ing; 75-de­gree wa­ter with light off­shore breezes groom­ing the glassy swells to per­fec­tion. Some of the best surfers were “locked in” on full-speed, dou­ble-over­head waves for 200 yards. Del­ray scored bet­ter waves from that storm than any­where else on the coast. We called it “The Swell from Mars”, and it went down in his­tory as one of the largest, most per­fect days in Del­ray Beach surf­ing his­tory.

When you visit Del­ray, check the fore­cast or stop by one of our lo­cal surf shops to see what ocean con­di­tions are ex­pected. The ocean can be flat for weeks at a time, but some­times per­fect waves come to Del­ray Beach.

Surf­ing the At­lantic waves in South Florida

One of the many beach paths go­ing down to the wa­ter in Del­ray

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